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The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution, written by John L. Allen, Jr., the senior Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, makes it its mission to "shatter the silence" on the topic and expose the intense suffering and injustice believers around the world are subjected to.
Allen's research examines the world's most troublesome regions, including the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe, and shatters a number of myths about Christian persecution, such as it only exists in places where Christians are the minority.
Below is a transcript of Allen's interview with The Christian Post, the author and journalist takes a look at the biggest threats for Christians around the world today, and the measures that can be taken to tackle this widespread persecution.
CP: The Vatican, including millions of Catholics and Christians around the world, often pray for peace and safety. Yet as the book points out, Christian persecution has been increasing on a global scale in the past century. Does this mean that prayers are going unanswered?
Allen: The old wisdom is that God hears every prayer, but sometimes the answer is "no." I prefer to look at it another way, which is that prayer is no substitute for effort. The present moment is one in which millions of at-risk Christians around the world need the best efforts of their fellow Christians, human rights activists, political and media leaders, and so on, to make their case.
CP: How likely is it that we will see a reduction in persecution against Christians on a global scale?
Allen: Two factors fueling persecution are: the phenomenal growth of Christianity across the developing world, and the grievances some people in those neighborhoods feel against the West. Since neither of those things seem likely to change anytime soon, the realistic answer is that anti-Christian persecution is not going to go away on its own. In terms of changing the situation, one helpful development would be for Christians in the West to mobilize more effectively on behalf of their suffering fellow believers, both in terms of direct humanitarian assistance and also at the level of political advocacy, demanding that protection of religious freedom become a cornerstone of Western foreign policy.
CP: How can Western churches best help persecuted Christians and churches around the world?
Allen: There are plenty of things to be done, from prayer to humanitarian relief to consciousness-raising. When I ask persecuted Christians this question, however, the first thing they always say is, "Don't forget about us." They have a powerful sense of having been abandoned and ignored, which exacerbates their hardships. The best answer to what Western churches can do, therefore, is to make it clear in every way possible that they haven't forgotten.
CP: What should the role of the U.N. and U.S. be in combating such persecution? Is military intervention against regimes that offer no protection ever justified?
Allen: It would be great to see the U.N. and other international bodies take a more active role, but it's a mistake to believe the real fix to this problem can be top-down. What's truly needed is a grassroots awakening across the world that says this sort of thing is intolerable and must stop, like what happened vis-à-vis persecution of Soviet Jews in the 1960s and 70s and the victims of apartheid in the 1980s. As for military intervention, there may be times when it's a legitimate last resort, but that's conversation to be had with the people most affected by whatever the international community does or doesn't do, prominently including the Christians on the ground in these places.
CP: Does an overt focus in Western churches on issues such as abortion and gay marriage stand in the way of focusing greater attention on Christian persecution?
Allen: In theory the answer ought to be "no", because there's no logical tension between concern for the unborn child or the family and concern for suffering Christians abroad. In reality, however, churches have to choose where to invest their political capital like everyone else, and it's undoubtedly true in some cases that an overly domestic focus on the culture wars gets in the way of engaging the very literal war being waged on religious groups, and Christians in particular, in other parts of the world.
CP: Is Western secularization or Christian persecution the greatest danger for the Christian Church?
Allen: You should never ask a journalist deep questions like this! In general, it would seem the risks posed by secularism are primarily cultural and long-term, since for the most part secularists aren't bombing churches or hacking Christians to death with machetes. In a growing number of places, however, Christians take their lives in their hands every time they go to church, or drop their kids off at church-run schools, or open their Christian-owned businesses, or just walk down the street. In a sound-bite, a threat from secularism usually means, at worst, that a Christian might get mocked or sued; a threat in the global war on Christians, however, means that somebody might get shot. If that's not the greater danger, it's at least the more pressing one.
As a final point, raising consciousness about the global war on Christians should have side benefits for debates over secularism and church/state relations in the West. Reasonable people might disagree over matters such as the Obama administration's contraception mandates, but no reasonable person would defend people being slaughtered, tortured or thrown into concentration camps merely on the basis of their religious beliefs. The more people in the West become aware of what's happening around the world, the more likely they'll be to value the protection of religious freedom at home, too.
The Global War on Christians can be purchased in hardcover form and as an eBook through the publisher's website, which also offers other books from Allen, including A People of Hope: The Challenges Facing the Catholic Church and the Faith That Can Save It.